Innovations In Collating Equipment

by: Renée Varella

To meet customer demand for greater value, the quest for creative paper-handling and finishing technologies continues to accelerate. Advanced levels of automation remain key, shortening changeover times, reducing errors and labor costs, and providing more flexibility. Increased collaboration between conventional post press vendors and manufacturers of digital devices also has resulted in higher levels of post press workflow integration. Here, several manufacturers share some of the latest collating solutions.

Key Collating Challenges

While friction-feed collators use rubber rollers to grab the paper, air- or suction-feed collators use a vacuum pump to move the paper into the finishing system, whether it be a bookletmaker, folder, creaser, etc. Difficult substrates continue to pose unique challenges for collators – and the type of application can determine the most appropriate equipment choice. Joe Bondonna, product manager for Spiral Binding Company, Inc., based in Totowa, N.J., noted that although friction-feed systems are initially less expensive to purchase, the use of coated stocks and misfeeds or tracking problems are driving customers who can afford the higher price tag to consider suction-feed collators. “We can discuss a customer’s application to determine if a specific piece of equipment is correct for its application and if the customer has considered the downside of a friction-feed piece of equipment,” he said. “Some customers can deal with some tracking issues; others may not have heavy coverage where tracking will be an issue. Other customers may be using standard 20 lb. bond paper, where misfeeding in a friction-feed system is not an issue.”

For Duplo USA Corporation, based in Santa Ana, Calif., collating challenges come in the form of requests for collated tabs, laminated single- or double-sided documents, and carbonless NCR documents. Si Nguyen, Duplo’s director of marketing, pointed out that churches and schools, in particular, can more easily afford friction-feed systems but said a purchasing decision depends on the type of substrates used. “For newsletters and saddlestitch booklets, a friction-feed system is a perfect component for printing with ink and for normal bond paper and up to 110 lb. cardstock,” he said. However, to accommodate coated substrates, tabs, NCR stocks, single-sided lamination, and UV-coated applications, Nguyen solely recommends an air-vacuum system. Duplo’s patented, pumpless vacuum-belt feed system provides significant versatility, with its ability to feed up to 300 gsm and a variety of sheet sizes.

Mark Hunt, director of marketing for Standard Finishing Systems, based in Andover, Mass., noted how key it is for trade binderies to have collating equipment that can handle a wide range of materials, including Mylar, Braille, and other unusual substrates. “Standard Horizon collators can feed everything from very fragile 52 gsm tissue to 230 gsm cardboard to 16-page signatures and envelopes,” he said. “Due to such problems as static and marking, suction-feed collators have overtaken the market and now dominate the production end of the industry.”

The Footprint Question

Another issue for collators centers on equipment size. Depending on how you plan to finish the product, Bondonna noted that in-line as a collating option can be a great tool: “In most cases, perfect binding, coil, wire, and comb binding are being done off-line and having a pre-collated document saves time and money.” He said most manufacturers of digital copiers now offer in-line bookletmaking binding solutions, with their own set of pros and cons. “The disadvantage comes into play with reduced production speeds and limiting other jobs when a print engine is tied up running booklets,” Bondonna said. “Downtime also is a problem when either the copier or bookletmaking portion of the machine is down, because then you’ve lost two units, not just one.”

Hunt added that most suction-feed systems are now vertical, which offers a significant space-saving advantage. The trade-offs inherent with a smaller piece of equipment include reduced performance and speed, decreased bin capacity, and lack of commercial-duty robustness, making such units less suitable for a trade bindery. “Standard offers both a 10-station and a 6-station collator, which can accommodate 5.1 of paper in the stack – making them especially suitable for longer runs,” Hunt said.

Nguyen noted that commercial printers want equipment made out of heavy iron and to be able to produce 5,000 books an hour, using larger buttons and knobs so they can see what they’re doing. “For smaller quick printers and family-owned print shops, floor space is at a premium, so if you can give them a high-quality booklet in a smaller footprint it really attracts them,” he said.

Automation Is King

The sources here noted that today’s bindery operations reflect considerably higher degrees of automation in finishing. “A well-designed machine interface helps operators make easy and proper set-up decisions, taking them through each step in the process, and allows previously entered finishing parameters to be instantly recalled,” Hunt said. He noted that for the last 10 years Standard Horizon has concentrated on advanced programming, error detection, and system monitoring, outfitting machines with state-of-the-art touchscreen-control consoles. “Automation is a critical way for our customers to reduce costs, improve set-up and changeover speeds, and attract suitable employees who can be trained and cross-trained more easily. We’ve designed our machines so that once they learn how to operate the collator they can pick up our saddlestitchers, perfect binders, or folders very easily.”

Digital print environments are drivers of automation. Spiral Binding offers the Plockmatic VF1008 feeder/collator. “In addition to being a straight collator, it acts as a feeder where the unit can merge pre-collated materials into a single document,” Bondonna said. “” the unit only has eight collating bins, by using it as a feeder you can merge these pre-collated sheets from offset press, black and white copies, and color sheets in any order into one book. The programming is intuitive with the touchscreen keypad.” While the VF1008 can be ganged together as a straight collator to produce a 96-page booklet, it also can produce a 96-page booklet with one tower by using the feeder function, with precollated materials coming off a digital print engine.

Small print shops also demand the efficiencies produced by greater automation, particularly when the collating function can be combined with other processes. Heidelberg’s Stitchexpert allows small print shops to perform both centerfold and side stitching of booklets from a central console. Sheets are collated in a tower, then jogged into neat stacks, stapled, folded, and face-trimmed. Formats and paper weights can range from CD booklets to 20½×14, and from 60 to 250 gsm. Stapling can be done at the top, on the side, or through the spine. Additional collator towers can be installed to increase capacity and facilitate replenishment of the hopper bins. The Stitchexpert also can be used as a dedicated collator.

Another example of collating equipment that is integrated with other functions on the bindery floor is MBM’s StitchFold bookletmaker and optional trimmer, which uses wire-fed stitching technology to produce up to 65,000 booklets from a single spool of wire. A collator interface is included. The FC 10 automatic 10-bin friction collator collates a variety of paper stocks and weights at speeds up to 3,600 sets per hour, with a 275-sheet bin capacity. The FC 10 Twin Tower Transport Unit allows two FC 10 units to be combined into a 20-bin configuration for high-volume production; the collators can be used in tandem or separately while connected.

The Campaign for Complete Solutions

So what’s next in the collating field? Standard’s commitment to “Intelligent Automation” has yielded several advancements – and a glimpse into the future. “Customers are looking for high levels of set integrity and security,” Hunt said. “Our systems must have high error-rejection integrity built into each feeding system and can be equipped with a camera to read each set for accuracy and to ensure no blank sheets.” The company’s CCD-VAC Image Checking System enables collated documents to be handled with full integrity and verification. For space efficiency, six high-performance CCD cameras are installed in the transport area on each VAC-60 collating tower. The CCD-VAC system includes a touchscreen console for centralized control, set-up, and system monitoring. The CCD-VAC cameras match and verify each sheet and then either alert the operator or stop the system if an error is found – such as wrong or improperly loaded sheets in the bin.

Nguyen noted that today’s post press device – perfect binder, creaser, and collator – must target complete automation, including at the front end. “A printer wants automation before he goes to the bindery area,” he said. “Such options are especially important, because printers define pre press as the bottleneck of the operation.” Nguyen added that Duplo recently conducted several case studies and determined that all of its customers were looking solely to automation to achieve efficiencies in the next five to 10 years. In response, the company came out with the Duetto “near-line” solution, an all-in-one configuration that merges uncollated sets and pre-collated sets from digital printers. The post press solution provides 100 percent set integrity and handles multiple print engines.

Hunt added that collating systems of the future will feature intelligent feeding, with set-up from a database or screen and an increased ability to provide dynamic content. He cited the example of an insurance document application that could be driven by a database or bar code so that certain clients receive a health club promotion in their packet.

Manufacturers like Standard Horizon, Heidelberg, and Duplo are offering another layer of communication by providing JDF-enabled systems that integrate the process of printing with the business of printing. For instance, Duplo is one of the finishing partners of Ultimate Technographics, which has developed connectivity with finishing equipment to limit paper waste and offer precise registration for cutting and folding throughout the job. The hands-free Impostrip On-Demand process – with defined parameters for Duplo’s equipment at the pre-press stage – builds in a custom bar code to automate the finishing equipment, freeing operators for other work. “Ultimately, a print line incorporating JDF from start to finish will dramatically cut both production costs and set-up times for the printer,” Nguyen said. “Only limited manual intervention is required to run the entire print line, making it easy for even the most inexperienced employee to successfully manage the print run.”

Horizon also has deployed “i2i,” its own JDF-driven system, in cooperation with a suite of approved MIS vendors. The i2i system consumes the JDF finishing parameters from upstream and transfers the data over a network to the appropriate Standard Horizon finisher – a cutter, folder, collator, saddlestitcher, binder, or trimmer. In addition to the benefit of automated setup, i2i reports real-time production statistics upstream, via JMF, providing visibility into work-in-process across the bindery.

The need for versatile and highly efficient collating equipment has spurred a technology revolution. The Binding Edge will continue to explore advancements in job set-up and changeover, servo-motor technology, and automation features to ensure your bindery benefits from the latest in user-friendly technology.